To DEET or not to DEET? That’s the question facing gardeners, holidaymakers and anyone looking for protection from mozzies.

Why are people concerned?

Questions were first raised in 1989 when four children and one adult had seizures after using a spray containing DEET. Other research suggested that it could lower sperm count, while lab rats exposed to the chemical were shown in some studies to suffer brain damage. It’s thought that it could affect the central nervous system.

 

Scary! So why use DEET in that case?

First and foremost, because it works. Mosquitoes and other bugs track down humans through their antennae and DEET is thought to block the signal. In some regions of the world, the risk of contracting a mosquito-borne illness is greater than the risk from this chemical. Secondly, other research has proved reassuring. Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found no link with DEET. There have only been 14 reported cases of DEET-associated brain disorders since 1957, despite around 200 million annual applications of the repellent.

 

But shouldn't I exercise caution if I used a DEET-based bug spray?

Yes, all the studies emphasise that it’s safe if users follow label instructions. Most critically, keep DEET away from your eyes and mouth; there’s no question that ingesting large amounts can cause seizures. But if you’re using it in small amounts, you shouldn’t be affected in any adverse way and you could be spared some nasty mozzie bites.

 

I still don't like the sound of it. What are the alternatives?

As nice as natural insect repellents sound, most aren’t much good. Wrist bands impregnated with bug-repellent are also widely considered useless. However, the research early this year from the New Mexico State University, which pronounced DEET effective, also found that sprays containing PMD—also known as lemon eucalyptus— were pretty handy too.

 

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